DETROIT -- The Red Sox are far from hitting the panic button after losing seven of their last eight games, but change is almost certainly looming on the horizon.
“I’m not saying we’re not trying,” manager Alex Cora said. “Probably, we’re trying harder, and that’s why it’s not happening. It’s just a matter of, we’re not playing good baseball right now.”
The bad news is that Pérez’s outing hasn’t exactly been an anomaly among Boston’s starting pitching lately. The good news is that the relief corps has mostly held its own despite being pressed into service much earlier and more often than anyone would like, and Phillips Valdez was no exception in the series finale.
Pérez’s trouble was already apparent when Valdez began warming, having allowed a home run to start the game, followed by a triple to lead off the second inning and five well-struck hits his first time through the lineup. Pérez was given a chance to right his own ship, but the lefty followed up with a sac fly and a pair of singles that led to the Tigers taking a 2-0 lead. When Pérez hit Robbie Grossman on the upper arm with a cutter that got away, Cora signaled for Valdez.
“Sometimes, when you have a good group like what we have right now, this is a good [thing] to happen … [so we can] wake up and do what we’ve been doing early in the season,” said Pérez, who has allowed three or more runs in each of his past five starts. “We’re going to be fine.”
Valdez entered and responded with 2 2/3 perfect frames, his second-longest outing of the season, to take some momentum away from the hosts. As hard as the Tigers had hit Pérez -- the average exit velocity on the batted balls in play he allowed was 96.7 mph -- they couldn’t quite figure out Valdez, who tallied five groundouts, one popout and two punchouts.
If ever there was a time for the Red Sox to surge, it was while Pérez was on the bump. Boston’s dismal stretch with runners in scoring position continued to plague the club, however, as the Red Sox squandered their best chance after putting runners on second and third with one out in the fourth. Boston finished the three-game series 3-for-25 with runners in scoring position.
“We’ve got a lot of guys struggling. As a group though, I think it starts with our pitch selection,” hitting coach Tim Hyers said. “We’re a team that’s aggressive. We swing the bats, and I think recently, it’s caught up to us a little bit in expanding the zone. Chase percentage is obviously up; we’ve just got to get the ball back over the plate, grind out the at-bats, work counts and get our pitch to swing.”
In a perfect world, Boston’s bullpen phone would never ring in the second inning. Cora has even said more than once he’d be happy if his starters gave him five strong frames, but that hasn’t been the case too often lately, either.
With Boston’s No. 6 prospect, Tanner Houck, set to pitch in Game 2 of Saturday’s straight doubleheader in Toronto and Chris Sale’s return imminent, it’s worth wondering whether the Red Sox are looking to shake up the rotation and bounce Pérez or Garrett Richards -- or both -- into the bullpen. Both men are career starters, with just 75 relief appearances between them in 415 career games, but neither pitcher did much to help his case in Detroit, with Richards allowing three runs in four innings during Tuesday’s opener and Pérez getting hit hard, then pulled, in the second inning of the finale.
Is that the shakeup Boston will need to kick it back into gear? Cora confirmed that Richards will make his next scheduled start on Sunday and that no plans to change the rotation are in the works, but Sale pitching in what should be his final rehab outing on Saturday should begin to force the issue.
“We want to pitch better, we want to play better defense and we want to be better offensively,” Cora said. “And right now, I think, in all aspects of the game, we’re struggling, so … we have to turn the page.”